The 12 Steps in Medical Research

I recently read some information provided by a treatment facility in the South that stated non-12 step treatment modalities were more effective than traditional 12 step treatment programs. Unfortunately, misinformation like this abounds on the internet. While it is true some studies have called 12 step treatment programs into question, the majority of research overwhelmingly affirms the effectiveness of 12 step recovery programs. In Outcome Research on 12-Step and Other Self-Help Programs by Dr. Rudolf H. Moos and Dr. Christine Timko, the following results occurred:

  • Self-help programs and 12 step groups improve the affected persons’ chance for sustained abstinence and increased quality of life.
  • Self-help programs and 12 step groups reduce the affected persons’ “need for further professional care.
  • Lack of participation in 12 step groups is associated with poor outcomes (aka relapse).

These three primary conclusions are drawn from the “key points” made by the researchers at the end of their paper:

  • Sustained attendance at self-help groups (SHGs)** is associated with a higher likelihood of abstinence and better substance use outcomes.
  • Involvement in SHGs may accrue benefits over and above those of attendance itself. Outcome Research on J2-Step and Otller Self-Help Programs 519
  • Delay in participation and dropout from SHGs foreshadows poorer substance use outcomes.
  • Participation in SHGs can substitute for, bolster, and help to explain the benefits of treatment; it can also reduce health care utilization and costs.
  • Less religious individuals appear to benefit from SHGs as much as do individuals who are more religious.
  • Individuals who are court mandated to participate in SHGs benefit as much from them as do non mandated patients.
  • Women and older adults engage in and benefit from SHGs as much as or more than men and younger adults do.
  • SHGs contribute to better substance use outcomes by providing support, goal direction, and structure; exposure to abstinent role models; reward for substance-free activities; and a focus for building self-confidence and coping skills.

**Please note SHGs refer to self-help groups and 12 step groups.**

Because I do not want you to think I’ve cherry-picked research, I will supply one other piece of recent research on 12 step recovery. At the end of the article, there will also be links to highly credible websites to further supplement my claim that 12 step recovery works!

In Do Spirituality and Religiosity Help in the Management of Cravings in Substance Abuse Treatment?, 75% of the studies’ participants reported that spirituality played a critical and helpful role in their recovery. The study also affirmed that spirituality provided participants with a weapon to battle drug and alcohol cravings. Hazelden, a world-renowned treatment center, offers an excellent article on 12 step recovery research. They specifically refer to the MATCH Project, a very large study that involved 12 step groups conducted in the late 90s. This article further supports the claim that 12 step recovery is one of the most, if not the most, effective treatment modality available today.

Discovery Place has also conducted its own studies, in partnership with Baptist Healing Trust, to determine their program outcomes. The study took place over a three-year period, and the outcomes are excellent. Discovery Place also adhered to strict guidelines in the study’s architecture and execution.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information offers a wealth of substance abuse-related research. Simply search for the terms “12 step”, “substance abuse” or “self-help groups” to see their library on the topic. Most of these studies confirm the effectiveness and value of 12 step programs. I can say with complete honesty that without 12 step recovery groups, I would not be sober today. These groups, however, have provided me with more than just sobriety. Through 12 step recovery, I received direction and guidance in my personal and professional relationships. As a result, new friendships began to develop in ways words wouldn’t describe. My professional career, at times successful, rebounded with an incredible momentum. And my family relationships, once so shattered from years of drug (specifically heroin) abuse, found new meaning and purpose. The people I call friends today, the profession I enjoy and the family I care about are all the result of my involvement in 12 step groups. Next weekend, my Dad and I will travel together for a father-son golf trip with some of his friends and their sons. In the past, a trip like this would have horrified me. Because of a toxic combination of fear and opiate addiction, I would not have been able to attend such a gathering. But 12 step groups helped me chart a new course in life. In a little over one week, I’ll stand on the first tee with my Dad at a world-class golf course and take a moment to reflect, with gratitude, on the opportunities afforded in 12 step recovery.

This is just a small example of the tremendous outcomes 12 step recovery groups can facilitate. To find out for yourself, you’ll have to get involved! 

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